The neuroscience of social feelings: mechanisms of adaptive social functioning

Paul J. Eslinger, Silke Anders, Tomasso Ballarini, Sydney Boutros, Soren Krach, Annalina V. Mayer, Jorge Moll, Tamara L. Newton, Matthias L. Schroeter, Ricardo de Oliveira-Souza, Jacob Raber, Gavin Brent Sullivan, James E. Swain, Leroy Lowe, Roland Zahn

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    41 Citations (Scopus)
    257 Downloads (Pure)


    Social feelings have conceptual and empirical connections with affect and emotion. In this review, we discuss how they relate to cognition, emotion, behavior and well-being. We examine the functional neuroanatomy and neurobiology of social feelings and their role in adaptive social functioning. Existing neuroscience literature is reviewed to identify concepts, methods and challenges that might be addressed by social feelings research. Specific topic areas highlight the influence and modulation of social feelings on interpersonal affiliation, parent-child attachments, moral sentiments, interpersonal stressors, and emotional communication. Brain regions involved in social feelings were confirmed by meta-analysis using the Neurosynth platform for large-scale, automated synthesis of functional magnetic resonance imaging data. Words that relate specifically to social feelings were identfied as potential research variables. Topical inquiries into social media behaviors, loneliness, trauma, and social sensitivity, especially with recent physical distancing for guarding public and personal health, underscored the increasing importance of social feelings for affective and second person neuroscience research with implications for brain development, physical and mental health, and lifelong adaptive functioning.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)592-620
    Number of pages29
    JournalNeuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews
    Early online date2 Jun 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

    Bibliographical note

    This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license.


    PJE is supported by NIH/NIEHS RO1 ES019672 and the Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute/USC/NIA . SB is supported by National Science Foundation GVPRS0014D9 . JR is supported by NASA NSCOR NNX15AK13G , DoD W81XWH-17-1-0193 , NIH/NIEHS R21 ES027943 , NIH/NIA RF1 AG059088 , NIH/NIA R01 AT009168-04S1 , NIH/NCI R21 CA223461 , and R21 AG065914 . MS is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG; SCHR 774/5-1 ). JES is supported by NIH/NIDA R01 DA047336 and R01 DA047094 . Funding Information: PJE is supported by NIH/NIEHSRO1 ES019672 and the Alzheimer's Therapeutic Research Institute/USC/NIA. SB is supported by National Science FoundationGVPRS0014D9. JR is supported by NASA NSCORNNX15AK13G, DoDW81XWH-17-1-0193, NIH/NIEHS R21 ES027943, NIH/NIA RF1 AG059088, NIH/NIA R01 AT009168-04S1, NIH/NCI R21 CA223461, and R21 AG065914. MS is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG; SCHR 774/5-1). JES is supported by NIH/NIDA R01 DA047336 and R01 DA047094.


    • Social feelings
    • Empathy
    • Second person neuroscience
    • Social affiliation
    • Social influence
    • Social media
    • Parent-child attachment
    • Moral sentiments
    • Interpersonal stressors
    • Emotional communication
    • Loneliness
    • Trauma

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
    • Cognitive Neuroscience
    • Behavioral Neuroscience


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